Todd and Julie Chrisley were given 12- and seven-year prison sentences, respectively, for the role they played in their tax fraud case, but while the sentencing may seem harsh, there’s zero evidence showing the couple was unfairly targeted.
Judge Rachel Juarez, star of the first-ever three-judge panel CBS show Hot Bench, tells ET that the prison sentences for the Chrisley Knows Best stars fall along the lines of what most legal experts expected. Juarez, who was not involved in the Chrisleys’ federal case and is not connected to the embattled reality TV stars, says while the prison sentences are significant, they don’t fall anywhere near the range prosecutors recommended — 17 1/2 to 22 years for Todd and 10 to 12 1/2 years for Julie.
The Chrisleys were sentenced Monday, nearly six months after they were found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and tax fraud. ET has reached out to the Chrisleys for comment.
“I think these sentences were pretty much within the range of what one would expect,” Juarez tells ET. “These were very serious crimes. The fraud was extensive, and there was really no remorse being shown by either Todd or Julie. They stuck by their actions. They didn’t express any remorse or accept any sense of responsibility.”
Juarez believes the Chrisleys’ inability to show remorse hurt them in the long run.
“I think unwillingness to show responsibility absolutely played into the sentence,” Juarez says. “Not only did these two individuals — according to the judge and according to the prosecutors — fail to accept responsibility, but they blamed others. And there was significant evidence — that the prosecutors pointed to — that they not only blamed others, but they had third-parties testify on their behalf falsely to claim responsibility for what the Chrisleys actually did. And those types of actions, when it comes to sentencing, really don’t help.”
That being said, Juarez feels there’s no shred of evidence to suggest the Chrisleys were unfairly targeted.
“Unfairly targeted? No. I think it’s a happenstance of being on reality television that you’re sort of creating evidence for the government every day,” she explains. “There’s no dispute that both during the trial and the sentencing, the government used significant evidence that they called from the Chrisleys’ reality TV show and from their media appearances. So, in that sense, the fact of their being on reality television can oftentimes be helpful to the government, not only in determining that they want to initiate a prosecution, but in moving forward with that prosecution.”
She continued, “But whether or not that’s unfair, I certainly don’t think so. There’s no added incentive to go after them, for the government, and in this case [the Chrisleys] received below-guidelines sentences. So, they were not harshly punished beyond what would be within the guideline or even below guideline, taking into account other factors like their age, risk of security and criminal history.”
Juarez believes that the “deterrent effect” did come into play for the Chrisleys.
“One of the things that the court is supposed to take into account when they sentence is the deterrent effect, that is whether or not the sentence that’s given is essentially serving as a warning to others to deter them from committing crimes,” she says. “And when it comes to things like bank fraud, tax evasion and things that the Chrisleys were convicted of, there’s a sense in the legal community and among judges and prosecutors that those crimes really can be deterred, because a lot of white collar criminals — as opposed to people committing crime out of passion or committing violent crimes under extenuating circumstances — very carefully plan their actions and they do kind of a cost-benefit analysis of what’s going on. So, the fact that the Chrisleys were [flaunting their wealth], putting it out there for the country — that they were spending, living a lavish lifestyle — made it really important to show America and show the public that these actions have consequences, so that others watching might think twice about committing tax fraud, committing bank fraud, lying about their financials themselves.”
The judge in the Chrisleys’ case recommended that Todd serve his prison sentence at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Pensacola in Florida. He also recommended Julie serve her sentence at FCI Tallahassee. Ultimately, it’s the Bureau of Prisons that determines where federal inmates serve their sentences, but Juarez says when the judge makes a recommendation, it carries a lot of weight.
FCI Pensacola, Juarez says, “has made a lot of lists as one of the easier places to do time in a federal system.” In fact, an October 2020 report in the Buffalo News described the minimum-security prison as “laid-back” and basically like “camp.”
The outlet also reported that inmates at FCI Pensacola have access to a well-stocked library, gym, track, and are afforded the chance to play a variety of sports, including racquetball, volleyball and horseshoes. They’ve also had move night. The prison poses such low risk, the Buffalo News reports the facility isn’t even equipped for solitary confinement.
As for Julie, she’ll soon be headed to the same facility where the disgraced former socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is serving out her prison sentence. FCI Tallahassee is an all-female facility with 755 inmates who get woken up at 6 a.m. every day. According to one report, inmates are afforded yoga classes, allowed to watch movies and play sports like softball, basketball and volleyball. Some hobbies they can take up include painting, art and ceramics.
“But no prisons are easy,” Juarez notes.